The first computer I really learned my way around as a kid was my dad's PC, which ran Windows 95. Sure, I was more easily impressed at that age, probably, but it also felt like an extremely powerful and flexible tool. I would do all kinds of hacky things like change file types, edit files in notepad, and run things in different modes or with different settings just to see what would happen. We even had Print Shop, so I could make really dumb booklets and signs and greeting cards.

That sort of fiddling and discovery is something I feel the computer I use now (a 4+ year old Lenovo laptop, running Windows 10) actively discourages me from doing. Being able to edit file types, open them with the "wrong" program, see hidden files, and so on are all no longer defaults or easily accessible options. And whenever I try to run something I found online, ding! Possible threat alert! It seems like the operating system I once loved now increasingly treats you like a 2 year old at risk of putting anything you find on the ground in your mouth... I (at least kind of) know what I'm doing! It also seems to be trying to force me into particular work flows that either require me buying into an always-online or subscription model, or using a specific app for every type of thing I want to do... after each all-too-frequent update I have Microsoft Edge, the Xbox Arcade and Microsoft Office greeting me again despite my attempts to banish them once and for all...

I know these complaints mean I should probably just suck it up and learn how to use Linux, lol, but the Windows desktop is still my paradiagrammatic computer experience, it's the language I know how to read, even if each subsequent version seems to be shifting further away...

Anyways, I've gotten back into writing fiction this month. I'm working out a script for a whole visual novel for NaNoWriMo. I don't think too many people know that I was in a creative writing programme for college, it was actually what I got a scholarship to go for. So I've written a lot of fiction in the past and basically gave it up (with the exception of occasional fanfic) during my graduate level academic work. Still, one of my earliest computer memories is copying the Word Perfect files I kept my stories in onto a chunky yellow floppy disk, so I could keep them in their own spot while my dad used the computer for other things.

This is all related, I swear! Getting back into the swing of writing fiction, especially in the sense of just getting a first draft OUT which is the main thrust of NaNo, got me thinking about writing and focus. When I saw the DevTerm teaser images released, I thought, god, that would be a really nice thing to be able to draft on. It does a ton more stuff, which again, I would be able to appreciate more if I had learned about linux by now, but I liked the idea of a writing "pad" that was just a long screen and a keyboard. Writing by hand is hard for me, I'm actually freakishly double-jointed in my fingers which means my handwriting is very poor and it's also very tiring to write more than a few sentences by hand. Plus it's always nicer to produce some raw text, right?

The DevTerm is still a conceptual device, only up for preorder now, and a bit expensive for something I might not use the whole capabilities of. I think my dream writing device would be somewhere between the FreeWrite (which uses e-ink and deposits what you write automatically in Dropbox folders, and also has a chunky mechanical keyboard, but is insanely expensive and honestly pretty ugly imo) and the DevTerm (I love the longer screen and how clicky the keys look combined with the much better looking case.), but fortunately for me there's a variety of late 80s and early 90s one-use devices that (kind of) fit the bill: portable word processors!

So with that, introducing my new hobby project! I found a nearly-new Tandy WP-2 online for £45, and getting a few spare batteries as well as a serial adapter that will hopefully allow it to output to my PC still came to around 1/3rd of the price of a DevTerm preorder. All it does is type, and output ASCII files, so I feel like it'll hopefully be a handy tool for very focused drafting in the future. And if I get extra ambitious, apparently you can run IF like Zork on it, too! Here's a very neat video showing it in action (plus a cat cameo). I found it at this site which appears to have a lot of vintage tech stuff in general available, including a lot of plotter pens.

I see trying to refurbish and use a one-use device like this as an interesting way to learn computer history a bit more first-hand, but also as a way of always re-imagining my relationship to computers, highlighting the good, the flexible, the helpful, and trying to see to what degree I can get away from the bad, the irritating, etc. We'll see how it goes!